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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


A Time to Rejoice?


There is a Hebrew expression, “Me Shehnichnas Adar Marbin B’simchah, when Adar begins, we increase joy.” Tomorrow, Saturday the 10th of February, is the first day of Adar. (Technically, Adar I. This is one of the years that we have a leap month.) Purim, the joyous holiday extraordinaire in the Jewish calendar, and the reason why Adar should be a joyous time, is still a month and a half away, as it is observed in the second Adar.


And yet, this doesn’t seem to be the time to be rejoicing. The battle in Gaza continues; hostages remain in the hands of Hamas and its allies; and despite efforts to free them, Hamas appears to be moving them as Israeli troops advance further and further into Gaza. There are conflicting reports about the success of the IDF in eliminating Hamas as a fighting force. It certainly has uncovered miles and miles of tunnels, which have included munitions workshops, along with enough weaponry to wage war for years. But has it killed and wounded enough of the Hamas fighters to declare victory. Or will victory only come if Sinwar is found huddling in one of the tunnels under Rafah?


Meantime, there are new negotiations for a ceasefire and the release of hostages. Will the advance of Israeli troops make Hamas more or less reasonable in its demands? Its current demands include the release of 500 Palestinian prisoners serving life sentences, along with another 1,000, in addition to those under 19 and over 50. Oy.


There is a bit of calendric irony this year. Easter is “early—in fact, it will coincide with Purim--, which means while Jews should be rejoicing, beginning this coming Wednesday, most Christian denominations will begin observing Lent, a time of abstemiousness.


I have already seen hamantashen for sale in Shoprite, albeit the one in Plainview. Do we get to indulge these treats for the next month and a half?


But culinary treats aside, until additional hostages are released, a more muted Adar is in order. Perhaps by the time Purim, arrives on Saturday night, March 23rd, we can be joyous.


Shabbat shalom.


Here is the link for our Friday evening service at 8 p.m.:

Meeting ID: 837 3603 1460

Saturday morning in the sanctuary at 10 a.m.


P.S. As for the Super Bowl. There is precisely one time when the number 49 appears in the Hebrew Bible: 49 is the culmination of the 7 sabbatical cycles, culminating in the jubilee year, year 50. In other words, 49 is but a prelude to the big event, the jubilee. On the other hand, the term for chiefs, Rashay Am, appears multiple times in the Bible. It is safe to assert that from a biblical standpoint the Chiefs are favored. But don’t go to Fanduel with this prediction.







Payrush LaParshahah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Mishpatim (Exodus 21:4-23:19) is read this Saturday, February 10th.


22:17 You shall not tolerate a sorceress.


Exodus 22:18 [Christian Bibles make 21:37 into 22:1, hence the difference] states the prohibition against sorcery. The Hebrew word describing the forbidden activity is mekassepa, a Peil feminine participle, usually translates as “sorceress” (see also Deut. 18:10). The precise meaning is difficult to discern. Definitions based on etymology relate to some form of divination, including the activity of cutting oneself to influence a deity, as in the case of the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18. The term also indicates a pharmaceutical activity involving drugs or herbs, or some form of magical rite to compel a deity to act. Exodus 7:11 described “sorcerers” as one of the three Egyptian groups called to resist Moses and Aaron along with the wise men and the magicians, suggesting a positive role in Egyptian society. Magic was a normal part of life both in Egypt and in Mesopotamia. A similar group of sorcerers is noted in Dan. 2:2, along with magicians, conjurers, and Chaldeans (=astrologers?). But most references to sorcerers in the Hebrew Bible are negative. Micah 5:12, Mal 3:5; 2 Chr 33:6 and 2 Kgs 9:22 all reflect the negative perspective of Exod. 22:18, condemning sorcery and associating it with fornication (2 Kgs 9:22) and false worship (Mic 5:12). The most extensive condemnation is Deut. 18:10, which lists a variety of forms of divination, including Hebrew mekassep, where NIV [New International Version translation] translates it “witchcraft” and NRSV [New Revised Standard Version] “sorcerer.” The identification of “sorcery” as a foreign practice is reinforced in Isa 47:9 and Nah 3:4.


The limitation of the law to women creates further difficulty in identifying the activity of sorcery, since the other condemnations of sorcery in the Hebrew Bible are directed toward both men and women. Does the author of the law have a particular magical practice in view that is employed only by women? Or does the law reflect a changing social environment in ancient Israel women are singled out as particularly dangerous practitioners of black magic? The text does not supply enough information to answer the questions. Van Seters notes that the idea of sorcery as a feminine activity parallels the term “harlotry” (zenunim) as a metaphor for worshiping foreign gods (see 2 Kgs 9:22). If the law is late and related to a fear of foreign influence in the Israelite cult. It may relate to the forcedf divorce of a foreign wife in Ezra 9-10, a phenomenon that D. James characterizes as a witch hunt for the purpose of maintaining purity and social boundaries.


The narrow focus of the law on women has certainly influence the history of translation. The JKJV {King James Version] translators rendered Hebrew mekassepa as “witch” in order to find biblical support for the practice of witch hunts in England. Opponents of the witch trials debated the translation, stating that OT [Old Testament] witches were not devil worshipers but merely wizards and diviners, thus creating a false analogy between biblical and contemporary law. On the basis of the KJHV translation of 22:18, John Wesley countered: “Giving up witchcraft, is in effect, giving up the Bible.” (Thomas B. Dozeman, Eerdmans Critical Commentary: Exodus. Professor Dozeman earned his B.A. from Calvin College in 1975, his Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1978 and a Masters of Philosophy and his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1983 and 1985, respectively. He has long served as Professor of Old Testament at United Theological Seminary in Dayton. In addition to his volume, which appeared in 2009, he is the author of the Anchor Bible commentary on Joshua 1-12, which was published in 2015, and more recently Introduction to the Pentateuch. Introducing Israel’s Scriptures: Fortress Textbooks in Old Testament Studies, which appeared in 2017. Additionally, he produced God on the Mountain in 1989, Holiness and Ministry: A Biblical Theology of Ordination, published in 2008. and Methods in Biblical Interpretation: The Book of Exodus, which appeared in 2010. He is also the author of numerous articles and monographs. Professor Dozeman is an active member of the Catholic Biblical Association and since 2017 has served as Associate editor of The Catholic Biblical Quarterly. He also serves on the Steering Committee of Deuteronomistic History Section, The Society of Biblical Literature.)






Questions for Mishpatim 5784 (Exodus 22:4-23:19)


  1. If someone gives another person valuables to watch and they are stolen, what happens if the thief is not caught?
  2. If an unpaid watchman has the misfortune that one of the animals under his care die, what happens next? What would happen if he had borrowed the animal?
  3. Who gets how much silver for the seduction of a virgin?
  4. What is the fate of those who mistreat widows and orphans?
  5. Did the poor have nothing to hock other than the clothing off their back?
  6. What is God’s cut of agricultural produce and farm animals?
  7. What does God need with first-born sons?
  8. Why shouldn’t one favor the poor in a dispute?
  9. To what extent should one assist an enemy in recovering a lost animal?
  10. What is the basis for Shabbat in this section?
  11. Comment on the order of celebrations in chapter 23.
  12. Where were the festivals to be celebrated? Who was obligated to participate?
  13. As far as the Torah is concerned, was chicken parmigiana kosher?


Questions for the Haftorah (Shabbat Rosh Chodesh: Isaiah 66:1-24)


  1. When was this prophecy offered? Does verse 10 suggest a time?
  2. Who will suffer God’s wrath in vv.15-16?
  3. Do verses 18 ff. suggest God is appointing missionaries to the nations? What is interesting about their location?
  4. Why the repetition of the penultimate verse?




Sun, March 3 2024 23 Adar I 5784